Skip to main content

    San Francisco plane crash caused by pilot's inexperience with onboard computers

    San Francisco plane crash caused by pilot's inexperience with onboard computers


    Boeing 777's auto-throttle did not maintain speed as expected

    Share this story

    Asiana Flight 214
    Asiana Flight 214

    The pilot of Asiana Flight 214 didn't understand the plane's auto-throttle system, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told press after conducting interviews with those involved in the accident. Lee Kang-kuk, the pilot in charge of the flight, set its throttles to idle, mistakenly believing the computers would keep the plane above the minimum speed set for landing, and ultimately causing the July crash at San Francisco International Airport.

    Summarizing an interview with the Lee, who was in training at the time of the accident, the NTSB notes the pilot "believed the auto-throttle should have come out of the idle position to prevent the airplane going below the minimum speed ... that was the theory at least, as he understood it." Sadly, that wasn't the case. Asiana Flight 214 lost too much speed and, despite Lee's attempts to abort the landing, it crashed and broke apart on hitting the ground, killing three.

    The findings contradict earlier reports that there may have been a fault with the auto-throttle system. Rather, the pilot in charge of the flight was still being trained on the plane, and was unaware the throttle system would behave in the way it did. Some blame is being leveled on the pilot's instructor, who failed to abort the landing in time and also took over eight seconds to heed the speed warnings and attempt to gain altitude.

    The crash raises questions about over-reliance on computers

    The crash has raised questions about pilots' possible over-reliance on computers while flying. As Bloomberg News reports, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a study last month concluding that, although autopilots, automatic throttles, and computerized navigation systems have improved air safety since their introduction, they can themselves lead to new safety risks.

    Responding to the NTSB's statements, Asiana released the following statement:

    We at Asiana again express our sorrow for the loss of life and the injuries sustained in the accident, and restate our commitment to taking the steps necessary to ensure that such an accident never happens again. This hearing was an important part of the investigation into the causes of this tragic accident. By examining and analyzing all the facts, the NTSB will undoubtedly help the aviation community learn from the incident.